There were many differences between the two great titans of the Reformation. Some were related to their respective temperaments; others to their political and geographical circumstances. Broadly speaking, one could say that Luther was the founding spirit of the Reformation whereas it was Calvin who systematically set about formulating a...
There were many differences between the two great titans of the Reformation. Some were related to their respective temperaments; others to their political and geographical circumstances. Broadly speaking, one could say that Luther was the founding spirit of the Reformation whereas it was Calvin who systematically set about formulating a coherent Protestant doctrine. Calvin was also much more minutely concerned with ecclesiastical matters, with the hard practical work of building a new church to stand as an immovable rock against the immense spiritual and temporal power of Rome.
Specifically, this leads us onto one of the most significant differences between Luther and Calvin: their understanding of the relations between church and state. Luther, in essence, believed they should be completely separate. The state had the God-given task of ensuring peace and stability in society; the church was concerned with the salvation of souls. Luther favored a strong state capable of preventing mass outbreaks of anarchy and defending private property against ravaging hordes of peasants. But the state also had the right to regulate religious affairs. Indeed, one could say that for Luther the church was strictly subordinate to the state in this regard.
There is little doubt that Luther was strongly influenced by two factors here. Firstly, he was reacting against what he saw as the persistent interference of the Catholic Church in secular affairs. One of the reasons why the Reformation caught fire so quickly in Germany is that there was widespread resentment at the increasing amount of money sent to Rome either in the form of taxes or proceeds from the sale of indulgences.
Secondly, the political organization of what we would now call Germany consisted of a patchwork quilt of different forms of government. The most common of these, and the one operating in Luther's native Saxony, was the princedom. It was perfectly natural, then, for Luther to accord great secular power to the reigning monarch, not least because he was a major beneficiary of such power.
Luther believed that there was no sense in the state Christianizing society, as it were. Calvin, however, looked at the matter differently. In Geneva, he was instrumental in establishing the Consistory, a kind of Church Synod. The role of the Consistory in Genevan public life was hugely influential. Its main task was to impose religious discipline and, if necessary, punish those who strayed too far from the tenets of the Reformed faith. Its increasingly dominant place in public life also frequently led to regular outbreaks of Puritanical zeal with taverns closed, sports disrupted, and card tables overturned by the Consistory's enforcers.
While it's not correct, strictly speaking, to describe Calvin's Geneva as a theocracy, there is no doubt that the Reformed Church did enjoy a considerable degree of autonomy, certainly one that would have been unthinkable for a Lutheran church. Calvin jealously guarded the right of the Church to excommunicate what it regarded as sinners and apostates. This placed the Church in regular conflict with Geneva's government, the Council of 60, who explicitly denied them this right. However, the Church continued to carry out excommunications in open defiance of the Council in keeping with Calvin's elevated conception of what a Reformed church should be.